Shutter was a movie I enjoyed immensely, apart from the tight script and excellent acting, something else in the movie too grabbed my attention. A song. A few lines into it, I had a strange sense of deja vu. Something about it sounded so achingly familiar and close to heart. I am pretty tone deaf. It’s usually the words of a song that register in my mind first. So it was, in this case too. Yes, it was beginning to fall in place. I was recognizing the lines, although meeting those beloved lines here was quite unexpected. A quick Google search confirmed my doubts. Ee Rathriyil Njan Ezhuthunnu was indeed what I thought it was.
Admirers of Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda could not have failed to miss the distinct similarity of the song Ee Rathriyil Njan Ezhuthunnu – featured in Joy Abraham’s directorial debut, Shutter, – with one of his most famous love poems ‘Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines.’
This poem is part of Neruda’s collection ‘Twenty Love Poems and a Poem of Despair’ which he published in 1924 at the age of 19 and contains some of the most exquisite love poetry ever written. The poems have been translated into several languages. Numerous ‘readings’ of the poem exist, with Andy Garcia’s reading for the film ‘Il Postino’ remaining one of the most poignant.
Ee Rathriyil Njan Ezhuthunnu is a rough translation of ‘Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines’ done by Shahabaz Aman, who composed its music and also sang it. Shahbaz Aman’s distinct voice captures the soulful poignancy of the lines that speak of a lost love and the despair and anguish it leaves behind. That’s probably the topic most written about – but it can never be done to death. Over the ages, in the hands (or is it the heart?) of the right person, this ache has been melded into some of the most beautiful lines ever. Like in the hands of Neruda – the go-to poet for broken hearts.
There are several translations of this poem in Malayalam, notably, one by Balachandran Chullikkad. Shahabaz Aman’s translation adapts the original beautifully as a background musical score for a movie.
In “Tonight I can write…” the sense of loss and loneliness is so apparent, starkly stated in the simple monosyllables. There are no flowery phrases or fancy words. Just the simple blunt statements that hit you more than any ornate words could. His sense of desolation and longing pulses through the poem, in the frequent use of the word night – reminiscent of the nights he spent in her arms and the immensity of the nights without her, engulfing him in despair.
Some sense of defiance stabs through the anguish like a saving grace, claiming that he “no longer loves her.” But no one is fooled. It is just a futile exercise in forgetting, because in the next instant he confesses, “Maybe I love her.” The wretchedness of memories taunts him. Because even if the love is short-lived, its memories could haunt you for a lifetime. He repeatedly states her absence, as if the repetition might bring her back to him in some way. But all it does is ring like a death-knell, hammering the loss right across your heart.
I have been reading this poem since my late teens and every time, I glean from it new threads of meaning and fresher aspects of feeling. My perceptions of love and loss have been evolving. Maybe, it’s because, “we of that time are no longer the same.”
But one thing has remained constant, “like the same night whitening the same trees.” And to some extent, the song from Shutter captured it for me. The poem always brought with it the oppressive fragrance of the sea, just before it rains. A dull, heavy scent like the ache of a darkening coast, the air opaque with gravid clouds, the heaving sea a constant wail and a heart on the verge of exploding. Achingly beautiful!